At DIY Animation Club, we believe it is our grave responsibility as audience members to seek out and support truly independent creators in their efforts to make original, long-form, personal animation projects. DIYAC doesn’t have a curatorial page on Kickstarter, but if we did, Kiernan Sjursen-Lien’s Saxon miniseries would have a place above the fold. Saxon will tell the story of a whipsmart, suicidal agender dropout, their quick-witted feline familiar, and said duo’s private investigation into the mysterious death of a local teen. Watch the first installment of Saxon below, then read our interview with Kiernan after the jump.
What’s your background? Current day job? Any other ways you monetize the art you make?
I studied character animation at CalArts and am graduating this year. Currently I work as a writer and artist for BOOM!’s Over the Garden Wall comics.
What’s your biggest challenge as an artist trying to self-produce personal projects?
The hardest thing is getting people to back it so you can keep a roof over your head. Especially as someone with a chronic illness, my medical bills are pretty high, which makes it really hard to work on my own stuff at the same time as working elsewhere. The easiest answer to this is crowdfunding, but that can be a fickle beast.
What are a few of your inspirations for Saxon (not just from the realm of animation — this could be anything, from music to art to politics, whatever)?
I started writing Saxon after attempting suicide. I was thinking about how much abuse has had an impact on my life since early childhood and how that could kill me – and to me, that seemed like a murder more than a suicide. So that’s where Saxon first started from. Kinda a dismal place, but hey, sometimes that’s where the best stories come from.
Your ink and paint work — the lines, the textures, the color palettes — all have such a warm, analogue feel. How do you achieve that working in a digital space, and what software will you use to produce the Saxon miniseries?
Well that’s good to hear, hah! I actually struggle a bit digitally since it doesn’t have the textural feel I love of traditional work. I started Saxon with traditional backgrounds but switched them over to digital to save time and effort — But I used a similar lining style to if I was drawing it traditionally (working zoomed out, and then using a threshold to get the final line quality*). I think that kinda helped achieve the grungy alt comic look I was going for for Saxon‘s backgrounds. Saxon will be made in Photoshop, TVPaint, Premiere, and After Effects.
[*I asked Kiernan for more deets on this method, and they said: “I use the base threshhold to change the line quality from smooth to kinda pixelated, but only when you’re completely zoomed in. It helps match to my traditional lines.”]
The project has quite a bit of dialogue, and the characters of Saxon and Bartholomew feel vivid and well-defined, even from the first installment/teaser you’re using as your Kickstarter trailer. How did you develop them? Was it more through drawing or screenwriting? I’d love to hear about your process.
Saxon originally was developed as a screenplay. I tend to prefer starting with a script before I go into the drawing process. It saves me time and helps me make sure the tone throughout is where I need it to be. As for Saxon and Bartholomew, both (as I mentioned before) were born out of an experience of a suicide attempt and the bleary morning after, where I felt kinda crummy and my cat just wanted to be fed. I thought this could be a fun baseline to start a screenplay from, so I wrote Episode 1 (as it is online). The rest of the world of Saxon and the characters within came from me musing about the effects of bullying and abuse on people and indirect murders.
In the last five years, there’s been an exponential increase in talk about audience-building as an important part of being an independent filmmaker. How have you approached this? What platforms do you feel most connected too, in terms people responding to your work?
Jeez. Honestly, this still confounds me. I don’t know a lot about marketing myself and so my audience has mostly built itself naturally. I’ve been lucky to grow a big tumblr following over the years. I don’t know though, I feel like each of my projects has a different audience. Many of my projects are for children for example, but Saxon is targeting a slightly older audience. I don’t like locking my work to an audience but rather letting the audience find my work. If that makes sense. But that may be terrible advice.
So here we are. Dateline: 2017. Remake City. Franchise mills spin out enough sequels and spin-offs to make your head spin. Corporate media conglomerates live in apparent fear of funding development for new voices with new ideas, unceremoniously red-light original projects (*cough cough Larrikins*), and tie up many of the industry’s greatest talents in the rampant, rapid re-monetization of old I.P.. In the current climate, are you content to merely complain at the meager options presented to you via mainstream channels? Do you not understand your own potential power as a gatekeeper in the indie animation world? Embrace that power now by donating to Saxon’s Kickstarter campaign! [EDIT: The campaign is over, but you can support Kiernan’s future projects by following them on Kickstarter, and purchasing zines, comics, or prints on Storenvy.]
If you contribute at least $30, you’ll get a behind-the-scenes bundle including all scripts, animatics, music, production artwork — a particularly enticing package for anyone looking to explore how they might self-produce their own animated serial (i.e. most DIYAC readers). Here are a few BTS images Kiernan was kind enough to share with us, as a teaser:
Hey hey, you might also like to check out some of Kiernan’s previous work, just for funzies:
The Magnificent Menagerie of Melvin McMelanie (musical short up on Vimeo), Winston and Harvey 1 and 2 (comics), and here’s a trailer for another short film (that’s 6 minutes long) that will be released in about a month (May 2017), On The Run.
DIY Animation Club co-founder Dave Merson Hess taught and developed animation curriculum for Aurora Picture Show’s youth workshops, 2014-2018. He also started Rush Process, a Gulf Coast-based festival celebrating animators who work with physical media, which ran from 2015 to 2018. Dave is currently an MFA candidate in Experimental Animation at Calarts.